Ahaz did not have faith in God, and so he was not going to be able to stand firm at all. He refused God’s promise, protection, and perspective. He turned in fear to what he really had faith in―an alliance with Assyria.
Incredibly, God was going to give the young King Ahaz another chance
Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, saying,
“Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.”Isaiah 7:10-11 (NRSV)
Rather than vengeful and distant, here is our gentle and kind Lord Who longs for people to turn to God in trust and faith.
The whole Bible is the story of God’s relationship to God’s creation, to people. According to Genesis 2, human beings started out in perfect relationship with God. Then we―humanity as represented in the first man and first woman―offended God; we began the hostilities.
We initiated the estrangement between God and God’s beloved world. The Bible calls it “sin.”
But what does God do in return?
God initiates restoration.
Ahaz was already a wicked and godless king. But the Lord had offered God’s protection and mercy, and now God was willing to authenticate this promise with a sign, a sign of Ahaz’s choosing.
If God’s wrath is the mighty cleansing agent of all evil, then whatever is evil—sin, corruption, death—has already been placed under the ban of God’s wrath. Restoration cleanses what has been defiled, and restores that person.
Now God was initiating through the prophet Isaiah. It was not as though Ahaz had been praying to God, or inquiring of God. No, this was all God, once again offering the invitation to be restored to a right relationship with God, and a right placement in God’s creation.
The trouble Ahaz was having with Israel and Aram was a wake-up call from God to return to the Lord in repentance and faith. This cannot have been lost on Ahaz, for though he may not have been a believer, he had to have been aware of God’s warnings in Deuteronomy, for his palace was right there in Jerusalem, by the temple which housed all the scrolls of scripture.
‘Cursed be anyone who makes an idol or casts an image, anything abhorrent to the Lord, the work of an artisan, and sets it up in secret.’ All the people shall respond, saying, ‘Amen!’
. . . if you will not obey the Lord your God by diligently observing all his commandments and decrees that I am commanding you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you.
. . . “The Lord will send upon you disaster, panic, and frustration in everything you attempt to do, until you are destroyed and perish quickly, on account of the evil of your deeds with which you have forsaken me.
. . . “The Lord will cause you to be defeated before your enemies; you shall go out against them one way and flee before them seven ways. You shall become an object of horror to all the kingdoms of the earth.”Deuteronomy 27:15, 28:15, 20, 25 (NRSV)
The more Ahaz turned to Ba’al, the worse things got. Now was his big chance to turn back to God. Look back up at what God gave Isaiah to say, Your God, Ahaz, is making you an offer. The offer of reconciliation was on the table.
God did not demand that Ahaz make a non-rational blind leap of faith. God offered Ahaz a blank check, any sign he wanted, anything at all to prove God out. He could have asked that all three kings just disappear. He could have asked that the armies only miles away just go home, pay back the loot and fix all the damage they’d done. “let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.” He could have asked for anything.
But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test.”Isaiah 7:12 (NRSV)
No, no. Thanks and all, but I have got this covered. I would not want to put you and God out or anything. I am doing okay on my own, with my own methods.
What God was doing was making Ahaz reveal where he was really putting his faith―not in God, but in something else. Ahaz had already planned to put his faith in the king of Assyria, and perhaps had even already sent the bribe.
So, if he said yes to God now, King Ahaz would have had to
- give up Ba’al.
- admit that he had already emptied God’s temple of its treasure.
- admit that he had made an unholy alliance behind God’s back.
Ahaz would have found himself in the humiliating position of having to confess, and do all the other humbling things that go along with being found in the wrong .
And he did not even really believe that much in God.
If he had believed in God, he would have been afraid of what all his terrible wrongdoing would bring upon his nation and upon himself.
Signed and Sealed
Then Isaiah said, “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign.
Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son and shall name him Immanuel.Isaiah 7:13-14 (NRSV)
You weary my God, Ahaz.
My God is not on your side anymore, Ahaz. Your opportunity for personal reconciliation with the Lord is passed.
Virgin or Young Woman?
My training as a Bible teacher begins with interpreting the Bible with the Bible whenever possible. Often a more difficult text to understand gains clarity in the broader historical context, examining the original language, and within the passage itself. Difficult texts also gain clarity when compared with similar, easier-to-understand passages that touch on the same material.
What makes understanding this prophecy difficult is the Hebrew word הָעַלְמָ֗ה | haʿalmâ Which can mean the virgin, or the young woman, or the woman of marriageable age, or even the newly married woman.
So, part of what we take into consideration is the historical context of Ahaz’s lineage. He was a descendant of the House of David, so this sign most likely was to have meaning in the context of this young king.
But we have an even better scriptural tool at our disposal, and it is a similar passage in which this very prophecy is identified as having been fulfilled.
Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be pregnant from the Holy Spirit.
Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to divorce her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:
“Look, the virgin shall become pregnant and give birth to a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel,”
which means, “God is with us.”
When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife but had no marital relations with her until she had given birth to a son, and he named him Jesus.Matthew 1:18-25 (NRSV)
Matthew lets us know the word haʿalmâ was meant to be understood as the virgin.
Nevertheless, for King Ahaz, this sign was certainly meant to convey that a noteworthy child would be born as the first child to a young woman, and the child would be named “God is with us.” His arrival would be confirmation that God’s word was true and God’s promises sure, that God would protect Judah, and David’s lineage and throne.